The debate regarding the release of a mass shooters name in media coverage
There is a large debate over media coverage of mass shootings after the most recent mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The question at hand is: Should the media adopt a policy that states it will not share the name of those responsible for mass shootings?
Current iconic political reporters, Megan Kelly from Fox and Anderson Cooper from CNN, have taken a stand against the release of names and photos of mass shooters.
Supporters of this stand against the release of mass shooters name cite a recent report published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE. “On average, mass killings involving firearms occur approximately every two weeks in the U.S., while school shootings occur on average monthly,” according to the study by Sherry Towers and other researchers at Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University. The study also cited that, “As many as 20 to 30 percent of attacks are set off by other attacks.”
Supporters have also cited a rise in mass shootings, particularly at schools. According to the 2014 FBI report, an average of six shooting incidents occurred from 2000-2007 and that average rose to more than 16 per year from 2008-2014. The second period included the 2012 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to identify exactly why the number of shootings has increased in recent years; however, officials say they believe many shooters are inspired by past killings and the resulting notoriety.
Is the release of the name and photos of mass shooters giving them news glory? Is media coverage inadvertently feeding the psychology of future killers? The family members of shooting victims in the Oregon shooting say yes with their #NoNotoriety campaign. Meanwhile, critics say no.
NPR reporter Elizabeth Jensen took a firm stance in their article, “Naming The Shooter: Why NPR Should Identify The Suspect”. The article does not name the shooter; however, it advocates for the release of the shooter’s identity. “Calling the killer a “26-year-old white male student” is not enough to help the rest of us understand what happened and why. Identifying the shooter by name is part of unraveling a story and helping place it in the larger context of many shootings,” said Jensen. She said, “Some killers do crave attention, of course, but not every shooter in recent years has seemingly fit that pattern of self-aggrandizement.”
CNN Anchor, Don Lemon, argues that it is the role of journalists to share the names of shooters, sparingly.
Similarly, several students in the University of Arkansas Media, Politics and Government class agree with Lemon and Jensen saying that the name of the shooter is newsworthy and necessary for accurate coverage.
The Mark Robinson with the Reno-Gazette Journal posted the article “Fact Checker: Media to blame for mass shootings.” According to the article, “New York magazine posted Fox’s data on the number of mass shootings from 1976 through 2012, the last year for which the FBI has provided stats. There’s a tiny upward trend, but Fact Checker wondered if population growth would account for this. So Fact Checker found the U.S. population for each year from 1976 to 2012 and divided the number of mass shootings into them. The trend? Downward. Strongly.”
Additionally, the article discussed the increased media exposure due to improved technologies that allow for more immediate and more frequent media coverage, meaning that news coverage is not spiking just for mass shootings but for all news.
These two very different prospective about the inclusion of a shooters name begs journalist to weigh the question, is it newsworthy or news glory?
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